“For once, a script perfectly suited to its director and star and one of the most lyrical children’s classics ever made. Ignore the typical MGM “prestige picture” touches and enjoy the spirited cast performing under man’s man director Fleming, who is reverential to the Kipling story. Young Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew), the spoiled-rotten son of a business tycoon, believes he can lie, cheat, and whine his way through life. On a trip to Europe with his father, the young man falls off a posh ocean liner into the sea and is rescued by a boat filled with Portuguese fishermen. One of the sailors is Manuel (Spencer Tracy), a big-hearted veteran of the seas who has a lot to teach the selfish Harvey about life.
“Captains Courageous” is a wonderful sea adventure with a heartwarming drama at its core. Tracy is excellent as the gentle fisherman, turning in a performance that won him a Best Actor Oscar. He reportedly hated his role, however, especially having his hair curled and wrestling with an accent (Tracy loathed externalized acting), but it doesn’t show for a moment. The following year, he won the coveted statuette again for “Boys Town.” (TV Guide)